5 Biggest Needs Pittsburgh Steelers Have Yet to Address This Offseason
The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a number of intriguing moves at the start of free agency.
They’ve seen former Super Bowl starters like LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Ziggy Hood depart. Other key contributors like Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel and Emmanuel Sanders could soon follow.
Obviously, these moves are made with the intent to improve the team, but they’ve got a number of acquisitions to make if they’re to achieve that goal.
So what are the biggest needs the Steelers should be focusing on?
Read on to find out.
It’s entirely possible that the Steelers won’t return a single back in 2014, aside from Le’Veon Bell, who was on the team a season ago and is expected to start at RB next season.
Jonathan Dwyer’s been scooped up by the Arizona Cardinals. According to Steelers Depot's Dave Bryan, Dave Johnson’s a Charger. And whether or not the Steelers have any interest in the return of Felix Jones or LaRod Stephens-Howling remains to be seen.
What their moves, or lack thereof, thus far seem to indicate is that the Steelers plan on an infusion of new talent in their backfield.
In fact, if Jones and Stephens-Howling aren’t retained, the Steelers will likely feature two or more new running backs in 2014.
Most of the backs left on the open market are in search of a starting gig (Knowshon Moreno, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate) or at least a 50/50 split.
If healthy, Bell would’ve managed well over 300 touches last season, so his position as the team’s featured back is secure. Thus, it stands to reason that the Steelers will be targeting his backup in the draft.
As with the running back position, the Steelers run the risk of losing a big chunk of their depth chart from the 2013 season at receiver.
Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery were Pittsburgh’s second- and third-leading receivers in terms of yardage last year and are current free agents.
If both sign elsewhere they’ll be taking a combined 1,342 receiving yards and 16 scores with them. It’s expected that the Steelers will make an effort to retain Cotchery, but until pen is put to paper it’s no sure thing.
Regardless of Cotchery’s status, Sanders is likely gone, and that means the Steelers should be looking for help at wideout. Seeing the prices guys like Eric Decker and Golden Tate are commanding probably signals the Steelers passing on upgrading the receiver position through free agency.
Still, there’s a wealth of options available to them in the NFL draft.
Depending on the availability of a potential stud like Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, the Steelers could target a receiver in the first round. But even if they opt to hold off until Day 2, one of Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief, Jarvis Landry or Jordan Matthews should be available to them.
With the recent addition of Cam Thomas (per ESPN's Scott Brown), the Steelers have seemingly shored up the nose tackle spot. But if the team opts to move incumbent Steve McLendon to defensive end, as Brown mentioned, then they’d find themselves in need of depth across the board.
Losing Ziggy Hood and Al Woods to free agency has left the Steelers woefully thin along the defensive line. It’s also significantly increased the odds that Brett Keisel might get one more go-round in black and yellow.
Regardless of Keisel’s potential return, he’ll turn 36 this September and can’t be seen as more than a stopgap solution. So, look for Pittsburgh to pursue multiple additions along the defensive front.
The team’s already secured one in Thomas and met with another potential addition in Alex Carrington, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette; more likely than not they’ll be hosting some other options in the days to come.
With a solid draft class coming in along the defensive line, it would be a surprise to see the Steelers not add at least one rookie into the mix.
With the recent cuts of Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers have lost half of their Week 1 starting linebackers from last season.
Fortunately, the team’s got plenty of experience without them. Woodley and Foote combined to miss 20 games last season.
On the other hand, that leaves them with no choice but to start sophomores Vince Williams and Jarvis Jones. While that's not exactly ideal, the situation behind the starters is even more discouraging, as the most experienced backups are Chris Carter and Kion Wilson.
As with defensive lineman, the Steelers will likely add several linebackers before next season begins. Inside 'backers Pat Angerer and Desmond Bishop are two quality free agents who shouldn’t command big money due to their respective injury histories.
On the outside, Pittsburgh could pursue a veteran presence to counterbalance the inexperience of their young starters, but the position doesn’t exactly boast a wealth of options on the free-agent market.
Thus, even though they took Jarvis Jones 18th overall a season ago, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Steelers target a pass-rusher early in this year’s draft.
Many expected the Steelers to pursue numerous defensive backs this offseason, and thus far that’s held true.
With the addition of Mike Mitchell and the re-signing of Will Allen, they’ve seemingly solidified the safety position.
Now, it’s on to cornerback.
Even though the Steelers convinced Ike Taylor to return at a significantly reduced salary, they can’t convince father time to slow his onslaught on Taylor’s ability.
Taylor allowed monster games to several receivers last season and in turn is no longer being paid like a top-flight corner. It also stands to reason that Taylor shouldn’t be expected to return to his previous form during whatever time he has left with the team.
However, it’s tough to argue that Taylor would serve as a great mentor to whomever the team is eyeing as his potential replacement. Most of the top free agents have already been locked up so corner is another spot the team should be targeting in the draft.
Arguably the top two corners in the draft, Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, could be on the board when the Steelers are picking in the first round and either would be tough to pass up.